News: The first Monument of the season, Milan-San Remo, takes place this Saturday. It is arguably one of the most unpredictable and exciting races on the WorldTour calendar, offering sprinters, attackers and classics riders a chance at victory.
Defending champion John Degenkolb will not be participating in this year’s edition of the race as he continues to recover from injuries sustained during a training ride incident earlier this year. However, as can be expected of a Monument, a host of other riders will be lining up this year to finish on the top of the podium in San Remo.
Although the race spans a very lengthy 291 kilometres and lasts almost seven hours in the saddle, it is not uncommon for the podium positions to be decided in the final few metres. However, being the unpredictable race that it is, one can’t necessarily preclude the chance of an attack being successful on the day.
The 2016 route is largely the same as last year’s edition of the race. After the riders pass through Milan, they’ll meet the first climb of the day, the Passo del Turchino, at 532 metres, in the town of Ovada, at around 117 kilometres, or the halfway point of the race. It’s only a gradual climb and is unlikely to take a large toll on the riders or cause any significant selections in the bunch.
After passing through the Riviera di Ponente, the peloton will then reach a series of climbs consisting of the Capo Mele, Capo Cervo and Capo Berta, which lie together in relatively close succession. Once again, these climbs are unlikely to be overly significant in the race from a tactical point of view, however, it will be important for protected riders to ensure they stay towards the front end of the peloton during this part of the race.
At the 263 kilometre mark stands the 5.6 kilometre long Cipressa. It has an average gradient of 4.1%, and ramps up to 9% in some sections. It is here that the first real test will begin, and there’s the potential that riders could be dropped on the climb, as in previous years. While the Cipressa does provide a potential launchpad for attacks, these would be more wisely executed on the slopes of the Poggio.
The riders face the possibility of a headwind leading up to the foot of the Poggio, which falls approximately within the last 10 kilometres of the race. With positioning on the right hand turn off the coastal road up the climb being extremely vital here, several teams will likely attempt to jostle for position at the front of the bunch by the base of the climb, making the run in to the Poggio very high-paced.
At 3.7 kilometres long, the famous climb is admittedly shorter than the Cipressa, and it also does not feature gradients that are as steep. However, what makes the Poggio so critical is its tactically significant position within the route: it follows approximately 280 kilometres of racing as well as the nervous ascent of the Cipressa, factors which are both sure to have taken their toll on several of the riders and their teams.
There will likely be attacks on the earlier slopes of the climb, in an attempt to test out the competition. But the more serious attacks are likely to come over the steeper sections of the climb, at gradients of around 8%, which lie just before the summit. Those who don’t fancy their chances in a bunch sprint will be most likely to try their luck here. If a good descender can make it over the Poggio with a significant gap, he stands a relatively good chance of taking victory on the Via Roma a few kilometres later.
Upon cresting the Poggio, the riders will be faced with a traditionally technical descent, which has been the site of some risky attacks in the past. It’s also where crashes can occur, with riders often taking chances on the hairpin bends.
The course becomes flatter towards San Remo and the run in to the finish. With a slight incline towards the line, however, in the event of a bunch sprint, teams will need to maintain good judgement into the finishing straight to ensure they execute the sprint well.
Fabian Cancellara (Trek-Segafredo)
This Saturday will mark Cancellara’s final attempt at Milan-San Remo. He has been on the podium here five times in his career. After having won the race solo in 2008, he has since finished second in 2011, 2012 and 2014, third in 2013 and seventh last year, making him the rider with the best pedigree in La Primavera to take to this year’s start line. He has opened his 2016 season well, winning Strade Bianche two weeks ago, as well as the individual time trials at both the Volta ao Algarve and Tirreno-Adriatico. He may need to attack from further out to avoid a bunch sprint, however this wouldn’t be an impossible task for Spartacus, given his excellent descending abilities and relatively quick finish after a long day of racing.
Michael Matthews (Orica-GreenEDGE)
Just like in 2015, Matthews has made his debut fairly late in this year’s season, starting his campaign with Paris-Nice. In this year’s Race to the Sun, he won the prologue as well as Stage 2 into Commentry, holding the yellow jersey until the penultimate stage. His rivals will have admittedly completed more days of competitive racing than him this year, however, from what we’ve seen this month, he has shown good form. Having finished third in Milan-San Remo last year, it could be high time for a victory in one of the Classics this year, and there’s no reason this couldn’t come in La Primavera.
Alexander Kristoff (Katusha)
Kristoff has shown good form in this race in the past, having won the 2014 edition, and finishing second in 2015 behind John Degenkolb. Although falling slightly short of the mark at Paris-Nice this year, he has had a good start to the season. He won a total of five stages at the Tours of Qatar and Oman in February this year, and also picked up the points classification in Qatar ahead of Mark Cavendish by a margin of 3 points.
Peter Sagan (Tinkoff)
The world champion has found himself in the top ten on numerous occasions already this season, but hasn’t been able to pull off that elusive victory as of yet. He finished second in Omloop het Nieuwsblad, fourth at Strade Bianche and second overall at Tirreno-Adriatico, where he also came second on stage two and stage six. He has the chance to win either from a sprint or from an attack, and a victory here would be a fitting manner to do away with the curse of the rainbow jersey relatively early in the season.
Nacer Bouhanni (Cofidis)
The Frenchman showed good form at Paris-Nice, taking out stage four ahead of Michael Matthews, Alexander Kristoff and André Greipel. He also notched up a stage victory at the Vuelta a Andalucia Ruta Ciclista Del Sol as well as third place in Kuurne-Buxelles-Kuurne. In his last participation at Milan-San Remo, he finished sixth, and if he finds himself in the leading group after the climb of the Poggio, he could be in with a chance to be the first French rider to win the race since 1995.
Greg Van Avermaet (BMC)
Coming off his victory at Omloop her Nieuwsblad and Tirreno-Adriatico, the Belgian no doubt has good form and showing himself to be a threat for the Classics. He has finished in the top ten at Milan-San Remo only once, with ninth place in 2011. However, he seems to have been able to shake off the label of “eternal runner up” in impressive style this year, and could be on track for a good placing come Saturday.
Fernando Gaviria (Etixx – Quick-Step)
Gaviria snatched his first WorldTour victory on stage 3 of Tirreno-Adriatico, ahead of the likes of Caleb Ewan and Elia Viviani. Earlier in the season, he also took out a stage in the Tour de San Luis, this time ahead of Viviani and Peter Sagan, as well as a stage in La Provence. If Saturday’s race concludes in a bunch sprint, and Gaviria is able to make it to San Remo with them, he could be an outside chance to take the win.